Dan Carter v Beauden Barrett in the battle for All Blacks' greatest fly-half performance

Alex Broun 00:16 26/08/2018
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Dan Carter chips over Josh Lewsey to score his first try against the Lions in 2005

The debate has already kicked off in the land of the long white cloud.

Which performance was better – Dan Carter against the British & Irish Lions in Wellington in 2005 or Beauden Barrett against the Wallabies at Eden Park in 2018?

Both were mesmeric, record-breaking performances by players on top of their game and unmatched on the world stage.

Carter was electric on that night 13 years ago. He scored 33 points from two tries, four conversions and five penalties as the All Blacks thrashed Clive Woodward’s Lions 48-18 to claim the series.

It was similar for the middle Barrett brother who scored 30 points from four tries and five conversions as the All Blacks dispatched the Wallabies 40-12 to retain the Bledisloe Cup for the 16th year.

The Wallabies saw a blur when they looked at Beauden Barrett

The Wallabies saw a blur when they looked at Beauden Barrett

Carter’s 33 points was a record by an individual in a Test against the Lions, as was Barrett’s 30 points in Tests against the Wallabies.

For then 23-year-old Carter it was just his 20th Test, and only his fifth start at fly-half.

Barrett, at 27, is a little further into his career, playing in his 66th Test and 35th as the No10 after serving a three year apprenticeship under Carter up until the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

For both players the match was a significant milestone.

For Carter, three-time World Rugby Player of the Year in 2005, 2012 and 2015 it was a coming of age on the international stage.

A player of undoubted talent showing what he was truly capable of in the most intense of Test match platforms.

For Barrett, two-time World Rugby Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, it was a reinstatement of his undoubted talent after his place had been put under threat by the rising support for the Crusaders No10, Richie Mo’unga.

Carter’s strengths were an accurate left boot, he scored 1,451 points with his left foot in Tests (plus two more with his right in the 2015 RWC final), superb vision and distribution and the eye for a gap.

Barrett’s right boot is definitely not as accurate, he has just 375 points from conversions (123) and 43 penalties, but what Beauden gives up for in kicking for the poles he makes up for in tactical kicking and the speed not only to see a gap but to scorch through it – as he did time and time again against the Wallabies.

Carter was unstoppable that day in 2005

Carter was unstoppable that day in 2005

In weighing up both performances the Lions were undoubtedly the tougher opponent with Carter opposed by another of the greatest fly-halves of all time – Jonny Wilkinson, as well as Jason Robinson and Shane Williams on the wing and Paul O’Connell leading the pack.

Carter picked out the Lions’ weaker link of Gavin Henson, in for the tour captain Brian O’Driscoll who was controversially injured in the first Test, and ran through him all day, putting on a masterclass of skills.

Wilkinson himself stood in awe at Carter’s first try as the All Blacks playmaker sprinted into a tight corner then kicked over the top of full-back Josh Lewsey and re-gathered to score.

The Daily Mail’s Chris Foy, reminiscing in 2009 about what he saw that day, chose a different sport to try to sum up Carter’s display.

“It was once said of Nick Faldo that he had conquered golf – he had beaten the game,” Foy wrote.

“Well, against the Lions in Wellington four years ago, Carter seemed to conquer rugby. The majesty of his performance was astonishing. It defied belief at times.”

More than this Carter had done the impossible in a heated atmosphere with the Lions seething over the (unpunished) tackle on O’Driscoll by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu and hell bent on squaring the series.

Could Barrett’s performance be adjudged to have done the same?

He was up against a mis-firing Wallabies side shorn of one of their few world class players in full-back Israel Folau, which certainly allowed Barrett to score at least one of his tries, easily outpacing Folau’s slower replacement, Dane Haylett-Petty.

But Barrett too was under great pressure – with not one but two world class No10s breathing down his neck (Mo’unga and Chiefs utility Damian McKenzie) Barrett chose this day to show what he was truly capable of.

The true test for the current owner of the All Blacks No10 jersey may come in a few weeks’ time when the marauding Springboks pack come to Wellington with a hungry back row intent on cutting Barrett down to size.

Perhaps the only fair way to judge is to look at what each player brings to their side.

Carter was more of a controller of play in a traditional sense – knowing when to pass, when to kick and on the odd occasion when to run. He thrived at the set-piece.

While Barrett is more of a broken field runner who thrives on turnover ball and an unset defensive line.

For mine, Carter’s Lions effort just shades Barrett’s Wallabies walkover but Beauden has many more days in All Black to come.

He may yet topple Carter’s magnus opus.

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